It's a question that has plagued our men's side since its inception, both from the outside and within. What defines a club?
Traditionally, the first thing that defines a club is its base in a region, and while our older 'cross-town' rivals mostly avoided this criticism within the A-Leagues simply by virtue of being the first Victorian club in the new system, we haven't been as lucky. The fact that they have a larger fan base also helps last seasons' wooden spoon winners. However, any die-hard City fan (as well as recent statistics) will tell you we have a sizeable core fanbase who are rusted on due to our early trials and tribulations, and will turn up week after week - a quality the 12th placed team in navy blue evidently lacks.
Aside from our by-default, though historically significant, rivalry with the Victory, other markers of Melbourne City’s identity are clear to those who support the club.
An emphasis on youth
The most obvious identifier is our focus on youth, particularly in the men’s competition. It's something that fans of the A-Leagues have been drawn to, and only now are those in power realising the allure of seeing homegrown talents in your team's colours, and the important club-fan bonds that can be formed. We've led the competition in this field - our academy is undeniably one of the strongest in the country - and because it is a long-term project, we're just now starting to see it bear fruit.
While it may seem odd to those who only watch Europe’s top leagues to see us getting excited about youth players who we hope will depart after a few seasons, there are few greater pleasures in football than watching your own players go on to be successful overseas or in the green and gold. Just ask my poor housemates who got woken up at some ungodly hour by my friend and I as we uncontrollably cheered Daniel Arzani scoring his first goal as a Socceroo - and that was just in a friendly match.
Our ability to help produce exciting young talents of the future is one of the club's best draw-cards. With the finals run last season highlighting the potential we have in our ranks, other teams across the league can be seen benefitting from our former players who have sought more game time as we overflow with young talent. Our club has become the place to go for young players across the country. If that wasn’t already enough, we've also come to dominate the Olyroos and Young Socceroos squads and in time this will bleed over to the Socceroos as well.
A homegrown club
While we may not be tied to a specific region, we have come to represent Melbourne - and the talent that the City has to offer - to a far greater degree than the other two Victorian sides.
This extends to the Socceroos as we now boast a ferocious front three of Melbourne lads who regularly don the green and gold in dangerous winger Andrew Nabbout, the greatest signing league-wide of the off-season Mathew Leckie, and king of the Golden Boot Jamie Maclaren. Outside of our strike-force, we have the best centre-back in the league Curtis Good quietly going about his business - not just a Melbourne lad but a former Heart player too - as well as cult hero and childhood fan of the club Stefan Colakovski, and our fearless leader and former club captain, Paddy Kisnorbo. Not to mention the countless others coming up through the ranks, as well as those who have been with City long enough to feel like Melbourne boys, such as Connor Metcalfe and Nathaniel Atkinson.
Other clubs may seek the big name foreign marquees — and much has been made of the lack of big name signings that many expected after the CFG takeover — but not us; our ability to obtain high quality Australian players and recruit a classy but primarily local squad has been incredible. This flies directly in contrast with accusations of being a soulless cashed-up club, the likes of which jealous outsiders cling to and which ring completely hollow nowadays.
On top of this, we've bucked the league wide trend of short-term contracts and tied many of these players down for the next three or four seasons. It's the kind of continuity that fans league-wide — but especially fans of our club — have craved. We have eschewed the old patterns of rapid player turnover for a more sustainable approach of longevity, and as a result we are seeing many players in the current squad breaking records for appearances, goals and the like. Make no mistake, Melbourne City is a homegrown club.
An attacking brand of football
While this is all great, what's football if is it isn't played well?
Looking towards the pitch, we've always aspired to play exciting, attacking football, and besides a speedbump or two under Warren Joyce, that playing style has been refined and wholly implemented in recent years.
Under JVS we took a thrilling but too often heartbreaking approach of no-holds-barred football, but after some steadying of the ship by the aforementioned Joyce, Le Patron himself Erick Mombaerts arrived to truly define our approach on the pitch.
The experienced Frenchman brought with him a wealth of knowledge, some pretty sweet sunnies, and by all regards the most brutal pre-season in club history. All of which resulted in a fluid and athletic — though most importantly — attacking and attractive style. Erick's tenure was cut short as COVID forced him back to his homeland after bringing us tragically close to our first taste of finals success, only to be replaced by the club's favourite son in Patrick Kisnorbo.
Some were worried that Paddy's promotion from assistant to the lead role was premature, but the club legend came through with the goods, adding an uncompromising nature to our approach — playing the City way, proudly and stubbornly, somewhat fittingly for the stalwart defender. He also brought a familiarity to the side that took us one step further from the season prior, bringing us our first premiership and championship in fairy-tale fashion. The attacking approach led to our boys in blue leading the league by almost twenty goals and JMac adding another golden boot to his collection.
With that comes the last piece of the puzzle, success, a new identifier for the club; current champions and premiers, completing our set of one of each domestic trophy in the cabinet. Only the elusive ACL is left to hunt and even that is within our sights this season.
So who are we? We're a Melbourne club of current and future Socceroos that play champagne football and win while doing it. A club where you can see our exciting academy products before they explode on the world stage and on distant shores.
It's the narrative the league has been crying out for and it's all here in glorious City Blue.